There are many majestic moments in sports. The larger-then-life, lost-in-the-lights home run from the bat of a slugging hero. The slow-motion shot that seems to brush the ceiling before descending through a barely disturbed net as time expires.
But who would ever describe one man, crashing violently into another, as a truly majestic experience to behold?
And yet, when Brian Dawkins soared through the air, arms outstretched, prey in sight – well, it was just about as majestic as it got. Seemingly suspended in air before crushing his unlucky opponent, he almost resembled an eagle.
And he’ll always be an Eagle.
Yes, it’s true – Brian Dawkins left us, to play for another team, the Broncos, and to inspire another city, Denver. He took his passion, exuberance, violence, sophistication, and – maybe the one that hurts more than anything else – understanding of this city and its fans right out of town.
He was one of us. Well…no, scratch that. We like to wear that one a bit too much. Surely, we aren’t all gentlemen removed from the stands, as he genuinely seemed to be away from the field.
No, Dawk was something else, something perhaps even more important than that: he was the player we all would like to thing we would have been,were we been born with the physical gifts to get paid for playing a game. He was fiery and fearless; passionate and pulverizing; destructive and delighted. He didn’t just play because it was what he did, or because he might make more money if he had a few monster contract years. No, watching Dawk play, you always got the sense it was much more than that.
He loved it.
He loved this child’s game the same way we do. He lived for that monster hit on that incredibly unintelligent receiver who unwittingly stumbled across the middle of his field. Just like we do. He could feel the electricity in his veins, the whipping winds of fervor behind his back before every home game. Just like we do. He woke up on Sunday because that meant it was time for football.
Just like we do.
Today, I feel sad. A bit depressed, really. I know that Brian Dawkins is just an athlete, who just plays a meaningless game, that really is only meant for entertainment. I get all of that. But guys like Dawk don’t grow on trees; these past 13 years have been a treat. How many guys are such stand-up gentlemen off the field, and such ferocious and inspiring competitors on it? I shouldn’t just ask that question of athletes: how many people are there like that?
Truthfully, I don’t know. As I often do in these retrospective moments, I am getting a bit emotional. Veering toward the dramatic, I’ll admit it. (And forgive me, for I am about to continue). After all, he was an adopted son, an ambassador of the Eagles and their fans, and one helluva football player. Man, was he good.
And were the skills slipping? Yeah, he had lost a step. Is business just business? Always will be. Did Dawk make a business decision, just like the Eagles did? He sure as hell did. I’ll let somebody else play the blame game – there will always be enough willing volunteers for that. I just wanted to honor the guy that gave so much to his teammates, coaches, organization, and ultimately, his city.
Thank you, Brian Dawkins. Your time here was truly special, and I can’t wait to make the trip to Canton for your induction into the Hall of Fame. That will come. For now, statues and monuments and plaques are being constructed, all over the Philadelphia region. Don’t bother to look for them; they aren’t visible to the eye.
These are the statues of recollection. Such statues live on in the imagination, many memories chiseled away until only the fondest of them remain in our minds. These are the statues that sit beside rocking chairs on stoops, entering the conversations of old men who yearn for the great athletes of their day. The structures that emanate from the lips of future coaches so that they might relay the great lessons of sport through figures that their disciples will both recognize and admire.
And his greatest memorial – his definitive plaque, in this humble Pundit’s opinion – will always rest squarely in the heart and soul of our sports obsessed city. Brian Dawkins, #20. Philadelphia Eagles, 1996-2008. Here we remember the man who soared to great heights and spared no prey.
Here we remember a mighty Eagle.